Secret HistoryS


Hailstorms, Wacky Weather Chilled Ancient Baghdad

© sydcinema, ShutterstockThe modern-day suburbs of Baghdad.

Diaries and writings from ninth-century Baghdad provide a glimpse of the weird weather from the era, findings that could help researchers reconstruct past climate.

The surviving documents were written by historians and scholars during the Islamic Golden Age between A.D. 816 and A.D. 1009. They provide a new human record of climate, joining old ship's logs and World War II air force reports as one of the few sources for detailed information on historical weather.

"Climate information recovered from these ancient sources mainly refers to extreme events which impacted wider society, such as droughts and floods," study researcher Fernando Domínguez-Castro of the University of Extremadura in Spain said in a statement. "However, they also document conditions which were rarely experienced in ancient Baghdad such as hailstorms, the freezing of rivers or even cases of snow."

Many of the writings from the Islamic Golden Age have been lost in wars and upheaval. But some works survive, including those of Sunni scholar al-Tabari (A.D. 913), Kurdish historian Ibn al-Athir (A.D. 1233) and Egyptian scholar al-Suyuti (A.D. 1505).

Cow Skull

Rethinking the social structure of ancient Eurasian nomads: Current Anthropology research

Prehistoric Eurasian nomads are commonly perceived as horse riding bandits who utilized their mobility and military skill to antagonize ancient civilizations such as the Chinese, Persians, and Greeks. Although some historical accounts may support this view, a new article by Dr. Michael Frachetti (Washington University, St. Louis) illustrates a considerably different image of prehistoric pastoralist societies and their impact on world civilizations more than 5000 years ago.

In the article, recently published in the February issue of Current Anthropology, Frachetti argues that early pastoral nomads grew distinct economies across the steppes and mountains of Eurasia and triggered the formation of some the earliest and most extensive networks of interaction in prehistory. The model for this unique form of interaction, which Frachetti calls "nonuniform" institutional complexity, describes how discrete institutions among small-scale societies significantly impact the evolution of wider-scale political economies and shape the growth of great empires or states.


Ancient Greek Cave Speaks of Hades Myth

Alepotrypa Cave
© Greece Ministry of Culture & TourismThe Alepotrypa Cave in Greece.
Hades wasn't the happiest place, the Department of Motor Vehicles of the ancient Greek afterlife.

There, in a gloomy underworld, departed heroes such as Achilles gathered mostly to grouse about their boredom, and await the verdict of the judges of the dead.

"I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man's house and be above ground than king of kings among the dead," said Achilles, the greatest of Greek heroes, commenting on the scenery, according to the ancient poem, The Odyssey. (Tough break for Achilles, but perhaps he was later cheered to learn that Brad Pitt would play him in the 2004 film Troy.)

But for archaeologists, a Greek cave that has sparked comparisons to Hades looks more like heaven. Overlooking a quiet Greek bay, Alepotrypa Cave contains the remains of a Stone Age village, burials, a lake and an amphitheater-sized final chamber that saw blazing rituals take place more than 5,000 years ago. All of it was sealed from the world until modern times, and scholars are only now reporting what lies within.

"What you see there almost cannot be described," says archaeologist Anastasia Papathanasiou of the Greek Ministry of Culture, a director of the Diros Project Team. "There is almost no Neolithic (Stone Age) site like it in Europe, certainly none with so many burials."


Oldest Rock Carving of Americas Found in Brazil

Brazil archeology dig
Brazilian archeologists have discovered an ancient rock carving they say is at least 10,000 years old, making it the oldest human carving in the Americas.

The claim, detailed in an article in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE, opens the controversial debate over when and how humans populated the Americas.

The 30 centimeter (12 inches) carving is of a man with a "C" shaped head, three fingers per hand and an oversized phallus.

Walter Neves, an archeologist with the Universidad de Sao Paulo and a member of the team that made the discovery, said the rock carving, or petroglyph, could be part of a "cult of fertility."

The ancient work of art was found in 2009 at Lagoa Santa, in central Brazil some 60 kilometers (35 miles) from Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state.


4,500-Year Old Sumerian Temple Found in Ur

Iraqi and foreign archaeologists have uncovered a temple at the Sumerian city of Ur, which dates back to about 2500 B.C., the head of the Antiquities Department says.

© Wikipedia/M.LubinskRuins of Ur, Southern Iraq
So far the scientists have uncovered one of the walls of the temple along with numerous graves from the same period, said Hussein Rashid.

Ur is one of ancient Iraq's most fascinating cities. It has given the world priceless treasures from the Sumerian civilization that flourished in southern Iraq.

The Sumerians, whose ethnic and linguistic stock is still a mystery, invented writing and established a civil system of government in southern Iraq more than 5000 years ago.


Evidence of Early Bronze Age Massacre Found in Turkey

© Titris Hoyuk ArchiveSkeletal remains of 19 individuals found at Titris Hoyuk site.
Mass killings, systematic violence or warfare seem to have existed across all stages of the human civilization. A mass burial excavated at Titris Hoyuk, an archaeological site of Early Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC) in southern Turkey, shows evidence of massacre that happened about 4,000 years ago.

Skeletal remains of at least 19 individuals, including three women, two children and an infant, were found placed on a plastered basin buried under a house floor in Southeast Anatolia in 1998.

Turkish archaeologist Omur Dilek Erdal, who examined the human remains in terms of cranial traumas (head injuries), has revealed that his study provides links to possible massacres among ancient population.

The study findings, published in the current issue of International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, suggest that about 16 of the adult skeletons showed signs of more violent cranial traumas, which were probably caused by spears or axes.


Art from Hitler's Collection Found at Czech Monastery

© Agence France-Presse
A Czech writer and publisher has discovered seven paintings once owned by Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler at a Czech monastery, part of an art collection deemed lost for decades.

Jiri Kuchar, who wrote two books on the collection, said Friday the paintings found at the Doksany monastery 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Prague were worth about 50 million koruna (two million euros, $2.7 million).

"They're part of Hitler's collection of about 45 paintings, about 30 statues, a writing table and some gifts, which was declared former Czechoslovakia's war booty," Kuchar told AFP.

The paintings include the 1943 Memory of Stalingrad by Franz Eichhorst, who was "Hitler's ace painter," Kuchar said.

The collection was deposited at the southern Czech monastery of Vyssi Brod during World War II, together with two larger collections formerly owned by German-born Jewish banker Fritz Mannheimer and the Rothschild family.


Rare Amateur Video of Challenger Disaster Surfaces

A rare home video that captured the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986, has been found. Bob Karman and his family were on a return trip from vacation to Disney World, and filmed the launch from the Orlando airport. This is thought to be only the second amateur video taken of the launch, back when home video cameras were just becoming popular.


Secret Renaissance Letter Reveals Plan to Save England

Thomas Hobbes
© Georgios Kollidas | ShutterstockThomas Hobbes was one of Europe's most famous philosophers; now a new document discovered in a collection of papers in the British Library reveals that he put together a plan to win the English Civil War for the king.

A newly discovered document, written by one of Europe's most famous philosophers, Thomas Hobbes, reveals a plan that, if successful, could have turned the tide of one of England's bloodiest wars.

In the words of Hobbes, the plan would prevent the "ruine of the English nation." The document was written during the height of the English civil war, a series of conflicts between 1642 and 1651 that saw King Charles I (and later his son Charles II), pitted against his country's parliament.

Hobbes, whose work encompassed politics, history, law, physics and mathematics, was a strong supporter of the king. And in the newfound document, discovered among papers of English writer John Evelyn in the British Library, Hobbes proposes a plan to win the war by getting the head of the parliamentary navy, Earl of Warwick Robert Rich, to defect.

Hobbes had sent his document to Evelyn's father-in-law, Richard Browne, who acted effectively as the king's ambassador to France. The handwriting is identical to Hobbes',and the document itself is marked "Proposition. E. of Warwick &ct. T. H."

"We don't have any other document of this kind from Hobbes' pen," Noel Malcolm, a senior research fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford, told LiveScience in an interview. Malcolm explained that Hobbes' political writing tended to be fairly abstract. "Here, you see him get his fingers dirty in real-life politics."

The document, and Malcolm's analysis of it, are published in the most recent issue of The Historical Journal.


Stone Age Pebble Holds Mysterious Meaning

Ancient Engraving
© Riaan RifkinThe engraving consisted of a more complex geometric pattern that looks like the letter “X” repeated in a connected series.

A colorful pebble bearing a sequence of linear incisions may be the world's oldest engraving.

The object, which will be described in the April issue of the Journal of Archaeology, dates back approximately 100,000 years ago and could also be the world's oldest known abstract art. It was recovered from Klasies River Cave in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.

Associated human remains indicate that the engraved piece was certainly made by Homo sapiens," co-author Riaan Rifkin of the University of Witwatersrand's Institute for Human Evolution told Discovery News.

Rifkin and colleagues Francesco d'Errico and Renata Garcia Moreno performed extensive non-invasive analyses of the object. Methods like X-ray fluorescence and microscopic analysis enabled the researchers to examine every minute detail of the ochre pebble, which appears to have split off from a once larger piece.

The scientists conclude that humans intentionally made the sub-parallel linear incisions on the Middle Stone Age pebble.

"Upon engraving the piece with a sharp lithic implement, it is likely to have produced a markedly bright and dark red-maroon powder," Rifkin said. "The design may therefore have been strikingly visible shortly after it was produced."